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Movie Review: The Proper Care & Feeding Of An American Messiah

By Mike Everleth ⋅ August 7, 2006

Movie poster featuring Andy Warhol style drawings of Jesus and another messiah

The most ironic thing about The Proper Care & Feeding of an American Messiah comes just as the end credits start to roll, but don’t worry I’m not going to ruin the end of the film.

The movie is a mockumentary portrait of Brian B., a man who believes he is a messiah. Not the Messiah mind you, but his regionally selected messiah. And, unless I missed it, I don’t believe the film states what that region is. However, the end credits say the movie was shot in the Waco, TX area.

Waco, of course, is notorious for two things: 1) It’s the birthplace of Jennifer Love Hewitt; and 2) it’s where David Koresh and his Branch Davidian followers died in a disastrous raid by the FBI in 1993.

Ok, so I don’t know if it’s exactly “ironic” that a comedy about a fake Messiah was made in the same town where the tragic real life killing of a fake Messiah took place. But it is interesting. I also don’t know how much the David Koresh story influenced writer/director Chris Hansen or if the filmmaker decided to tackle this subject because of what happened in the town he lives. I also don’t have any evidence if Hansen knows Jennifer Love Hewitt.

The tragedy of the Branch Davidians could in part be attributed to a sort of “millennium fever,” that is, certain folks believing that either the world is going to end or the Second Coming will arrive on the new millennium’s eve. It’s known that “end of the world” cults tend to proliferate towards the end of millenniums, well at least the previous two. The two most famous “millennium cults” that we know of are the Branch Davidian followers of David Koresh and the Heaven’s Gate cultists who committed mass suicide in anticipation of the arrival of the Halle-Bopp comet.

However, in recent days, one gets the feeling that there are still many more folks out there who held a religious belief in the millennium’s ending of the world even though they may not have joined a cult. Now, these people feel a bit gypped that the Second Coming didn’t happen, but are still eagerly awaiting the Apocalypse. Hey, humans make errors, maybe we all got the calendar big off? I’ve heard and read several dozen mainstream news stories about how some religious types are viewing the current Israel/Hezbollah/Lebanon conflict as the first sign of the end of the world.

So, for me, it’s good to see someone out there who is actively ridiculing the notion of following any Tom, Dick or Harry or Vernon (Koresh’s real first name) who claims to be the Messiah in case any more real-life ones entrap gullible “followers.”

A concept like the one that fuels American Messiah runs a dangerous line between “Is this just good enough for a 15-minute sketch or can it sustain a feature film?” But like the best of Christopher Guest (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show), Hansen knows enough that, yes, to sustain an entire 95-minute feature he needed to impose a fictional narrative structure on his fake documentary.

The film really is a collection of sketches strung together with a loose narrative thread to at least keep things moving and to maintain a sense of moderate suspense. Brian B. (Dustin Olson) is a messiah without any disciples, save for his timid sister, Miriam (Ellen Dolan), and his mentally-challenged brother, Aaron (Joseph Frost). So, to gain some followers, Brian arranges to have a large rally to take place at the local civic center where he will come out and finally reveal his “special purpose” as a messiah — as soon as he figures out what that “special purpose” is. One other obstacle: As a messiah, Brian has never held a real job so he has no money to actually rent the civic center and put on the event.

Dustin Olson does a really great job inhabiting the pathetic character of Brian B. It’s a particularly difficult part since while Brian is basically a thoroughly unlikeable person, he can’t be so off-putting that you’re not willing to watch him. Brian is physically disturbing to look at with his enormous bald dome, patchy facial hair, ’80s glasses and bad overall fashion. You almost have to feel sorry for the guy, until he starts verbally abusing his siblings and you realize what a lazy louse he truly is. It’s tough to pull off revulsion and attraction at the same time, but Olson does so very successfully. I also enjoyed watching Dolan as the perpetually “holding her tongue” Miriam, but was less enamored of Aaron who exists mostly as a comic foil instead of seeming like a real person.

Brian B. doesn’t come to as quite a tragic end as David K. and the film ends on a much more upbeat note than did Feb. 28, 1993. And let’s just hope that any future wannabe Messiahs have to struggle like Brian does and aren’t able to fulfill their own selfish delusional fantasies.

Watch the American Messiah movie trailer: